Week by week, we will be delving into the back stories of some of the greatest Yorkshire companies – finding out about the people behind them, their humble beginnings, how they became household names, and where they are now. Today we take a look at Dacre, Son & Hartley, looking at how a 19th century shoemaker and tax collector gave us Yorkshire’s biggest estate agents.
John Dacre was born in Otley in 1790. In 1813, as a cordwainer, he married Hannah Saxton, a carpenter’s daughter in the town. By 1820, he had set up business as a shoemaker, but also working as a tax collector. As many of the local farmers didn’t have cash, the taxes were often paid in kind – cattle, pigs, eggs and other stock which Dacre had to try and value.
Dacre became so good at the appraisal of stock that by 1847 he had set up premises in Bondgate in the town, describing himself as ‘Auctioneer and Appraiser, Northern Counties Association’. He moved again to new premises in Northgate (now Bridge Street) in 1850, but died ten years later, with his son John taking over the business.
In the early days, they mainly auctioned and valued personal chattels, furniture, linen and plates. Being ideally located between the rural Dales and the big cities of Leeds, Bradford and Harrogate, they were also regularly called upon to value and auction farmland. When John Dacre Junior died in 1969, his 21 year old son Charles took on the family business. Charles preferred the agricultural and livestock side of the firm and went about setting up an auction mart on Station Road which opened in 1875.
In 1881 Dacre moved to new premises on Station Road and in 1886 bought a block of shops on the corner of Burras Lane which they converted to offices. The company continued to do well over the next few decades with Charles’ son John William taking over. Upon John William’s death in 1926, the company was bought by Alleyne W S Berry of Hull who then sold it to Douglas H Smallwood in 1932. During this time, the business continued to expand to include letting industrial and commercial premises.
The Hartley side of the business starts with Thomas Hartley who started his company in Ilkley in 1906. He sold household furniture, as well as running an auctioneering and undertaking business. Upon his death in 1924, the business passed to his son Douglas who originally worked in Scarborough before returning to Ilkley in 1927 where he took premises in Tower Buildings at the bottom of Cowpasture Road before moving a year later to The Grove.
In 1929 he opened a second office on Boroughgate in Otley and then to Station Road – almost opposite
Dacre & Son – putting the two firms in direct competition. Seven years later, in 1936, Douglas Hartley and Douglas Smallwood merged their two firms to become Dacre, Son & Hartley – the name which remains today. As business expanded, Smallwood’s younger brother John joined the firm, opening premises in Skipton and then Keighley a few years later. Over the years, the firm has moved offices several times in Ilkley, Skipton and Keighley and taken other offices throughout Yorkshire, but the Otley office has remained in the same location.
In 1987, Dacre, Son & Hartley became a limited company and was taken over by Abbey National as part of their Cornerstone Group in 1989, although the firm’s partners insisted the name remain. In 1995, a management buy back saw the company return to local ownership with Jim Horsley as Chairman and Martin Thompson as Managing Director.
Today the company has 21 offices across the North of England and remains a private limited company with a hands-on approach by its shareholders. While it remains one of Yorkshire’s biggest residential estate agents; it is the commercial lettings, land evaluation, grouse moor management and other professional services that make it such a success, with some of their services reaching globally. Dacre Son and Hartley signs are a common sight throughout Yorkshire, emanating from some of the most desirable towns in the country to live.
In the next post in this series, we will look at building society Bradford & Bingley.
Further reading for this article:
How it all began: in Yorkshire by Maurice Baren (Dalesman)